"This has to be the top honor I've ever received," said Cecchini, who went 0-for-3 with a walk as his Surprise Saguaros defeated the Mesa Solar Sox 2-0 for the league title. "You always want to be recognized for your on-field performance, but to be recognized for your off-field performance, for being a good teammate, for your character, it's humbling."
Managers from each of the AFL's six teams nominated one of their players for the Stenson Award. The other finalists were Salt River Rafters third baseman Andy Burns (Blue Jays), Glendale Desert Dogs corner infielder Travis Mattair (Reds), Peoria Javelinas third baseman Jonathan Meyer (Astros), Mesa Solar Sox second baseman Devon Travis (Tigers) and Scottsdale Scorpions outfielder Cory Vaughn (Mets).
Cecchini demonstrated his compassion as soon as he entered pro ball. When he signed with Boston for $1.31 million as a fourth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, he immediately donated $20,000 to the Jimmy Fund, which has teamed with the Red Sox since 1953 to fund cancer research.
Cecchini also has given money to churches in Louisiana for mission work in Nicaragua and collected used baseball equipment for orphans there. He is involved in several other charitable endeavors and did some work with underprivileged kids while at high Class A Salem this season.
"It's not something I like to talk about," Cecchini said. "You just do it. You try to go out and serve your community.
"It's awesome to get out because you get in a routine playing professional baseball every day. It's nice to get in the outside world and it gives you perspective on how blessed you are to play this game."
Cecchini missed all of his first pro summer and part of his second with injuries. After outslugging Bryce Harper on the U.S. 18-and-under team in 2009, he tore the ACL in his right knee in March of his senior year at Barbe High School (Lake Charles, La.). He says he tried to worry more about his teammates than himself after he got hurt.
"If would have been selfish to say, 'Why me?'" said Cecchini, whose father Glenn is the head coach and whose mother Raissa is an assistant at Barbe. "I just tried to pick up my teammates. It was the senior year for a lot of them, too."
Cecchini's pro debut was delayed until 2011, and it ended prematurely after 32 games when a wild pitch broke his left wrist. Healthy the last two seasons, he has blossomed into one of the best pure hitters and top third-base prospects in the Minor Leagues. He batted .322/.443/.471 in 2013, leading the Minors in on-base percentage.
When Cecchini advanced to Double-A in mid-June, he encountered Bowie manager Gary Kendall (Orioles), who would be his skipper with the Saguaros. Kendall got to know him during the summer -- Cecchini likes to chat up opposing third-base coaches during games -- and enjoyed having him on his team in the fall. Cecchini batted .277/.434/.338 for Surprise, and Kendall liked the way Cecchini worked on all facets of his game and supported his teammates.
"Cheech is a guy who shows up every day, and whether he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 prior, he's not affected by results," Kendall said. "He plays the game the right way. He plays hard from start to finish. He's a good guy in the clubhouse, he's a good guy in the dugout and he's a good player."